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February 28, 2006

Shrove Tuesday

Ever wondered where the tradition of having pancakes (or crepes if you prefer the French version) originates? There are several explanations for it, but, being a pragmatist the one I think is probably closest to the truth is that, it being quite lkate in the winter season, flour stocks would be starting to run low. Remember that it is really only in the last two hundred years that we have been able to stockpile essential food supplies in sufficient quantities to ensure a steady supply of wheat for flour through out the year.

Making pancakes instead of bread for the next six weeks probably served a dual purpose - you were able to observe the "fast" and conserve the floiur stock in the family store.

Shrove Tuesday marks the last "ordinary" day before the beginning of Lent, a "fast" of obligation for all Christian's, although these days it is more usually a case of "giving something up" for Lent, rather than a full blown "fast". In medieval times it was common for many to forgo any meat, fish or fowl and subsist only on gruel or a diet of vegetables. Sunday's however, are "feast" days all year round, so the "fast" could be broken on a Sunday without penalty. In many countries the "fast" was observed in much the same way that a Muslim would observe Ramadan, that is by abstaining from food during the day, then eating a full meal in the evening. However it was done, it was also usual to attend the Confessional before the commencement of Lent and then to serve your penance during the fast. Hence the name of the last "ordinary" day - "Shrove" Tuesday means literally that the penitential have been "Shriven", or granted conditional absolution for their sins.

Lent, for many in this day and age, is less a "fast" and more an opportunity to do something positive, such as attend a lecture series, read a new theological book or attempt to "take up" something which benefits us and the community we work in in a positive way. Whichever way you do it, remember that it is a commemoration of Our Saviour's own fast in the desert before commencing his ministry, and that it is an opportunity to consider the implications of the final days of his ministry as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection from the tomb.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

Collective insanity?

Events in Iraq since the deliberate bombing of the Shia shrine last week expose just how fragile the peace and hope of a swift settlement in that country are. But it also speaks volumes for situation and tensions within the rest of the Islamic world as well. The act of desecration is, in itself, a ghastly act, but the sentiment which underlies it is even more depraved. Surely only a truly twisted and sick mindset could conceive of a plan of action aimed specifically at setting one part of the community against another?

Sadly, this sort of mindset is not confined to the Islamic world, indeed, I would have to say that I am encouraged by the speed with which leaders of Islam around the world - though notably not in Saudi Arabia or Iran (that we have heard anyway!) - have condemned this attack. Perhaps the most telling comment has come from an "ordinary" Muslim, the steroetypical "man on the street" who said that as far as he could see, the bombers had failed to even begin to understand the teaching of the Prophet and were unworthy of Islam. As I have said before, this is not about the religion, it is not about the presence of the US or any other troops, it is about who rules in future - a bunch of lunatic fanatics and bigotted "clergy" as they have in Iran, or a duly elected government that represents everyone in the country and not just the narrow religious view of the few.

Unless the insanity can be contained, unless the bombers can be caught and brought to trial, there is a very great danger that the country will descend into a civil conflict whicvh will affect the West as much as the Middle East. There is a suggestion that many of those killed in the so-called "reprisals" may have been targetted because they have been, or were, providing succour to the terroist "insurgents". If that is so, then it is an indication that, as I suspect, many ordinary citizens know who the terrorists are, who shelters them and who pays them. This attrocity may have the effect of exposing this and perhaps signal a swing against the tolerance of it and of those who are involved.

Every true believer, Muslim, Christian, Jew, now needs to pray as never before that sanity can be restored, that the doers of evil be brought to justice and that no further innocent blood is shed for the ambitions of a few truly evil men and women.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:08 PM | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

A rare man passes

Mausi's father, a man I met only once, and count myself privileged to have done so, died tonight. He underwent major surgery a few weeks ago to remove and contain a tumour in his lungs - a major strain for a man of his age - and then contracted a bug. The indications were that the cancer was already spreading when this happened, but, not being someone able to admit defeat easily, he fought it.

His age, the trauma of the surgery, the infection and quite probably the cancer finally overcame him and he passed from this life to the next this evening.

I ask your prayers for his family and for all who will mourn his passing. Those of us who met him were privileged to have known him, even casually. His was not the easiest passage through life for a variety of reasons, not least being that he was a teenager in the period 1939 - 1945, then had to try and settle in a new area and complete a disrupted education in a destroyed nation. That he succeeded tells you a great deal about the man, his determination and his singleminded approach to any goal worth achieving.

May he rest in peace with the saints and rise in glory.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:31 PM | TrackBack

Odious little man .....

So our Standards Committee have "suspended" the "Mayor of London", not please all outside of the UK - not the Lord Mayor of London - that odious little toad Ken Livingstone. "Red" Ken single-handedly brought about the end of the Greater London Council when he staged a "coup d'etat" which unseated the elected Chairman from his own Party in the then GLC and stuffed it's Departments with his placemen, turning it into a radical Left-wing socialist forum hell bent on defying Westminster, then under the government of Mrs Thatcher. He destroyed education in London, wrecked health and everything else he and his cronies could get their hands on and finally stage managed a series of confrontations over everything from the Falklands war to Tax policy.

This little t*rd politicised everything, the Fire Service, the London Transport system, garbage collection, education, housing and even benefits - those he could get control of anyway. In the end the only way to get rid of him was to destroy the GLC - which is precisely what Mrs Thatcher did. Blair's greatest mistake was to attempt to replace it, giving this nasty little communist apologist a new power base from which to destroy the democratic process which governs the Greater London area.

For the unenlightened, what most people call "London" is actually a loose association of some thirty three "independent" Boroughs, Cities and Towns. The City of London is a small piece of this, generally refered to as the "Square Mile", it's ancient boundaries being the Thames along it's Southern Edge, the Fleet Ditch to the West, London Wall and the Barbican to the North and the Tower of London and Aldgate to the East. It is bordered by Islington, Tower Hamlets, Holborn, Westminster and, across the river, Southwark to name but a few of the "independent" "towns" that have become a part of "London". The demise of the GLC meant that these Boroughs had to work together on a range of issues and this process was bedevilled by the inability of politicians from all parties to agree on anything anyone else thought might be a good idea. Thus there was and probably is a need for there to be an overarching "City Government" for the whole, but Blair and his cronies fell for the worst of all possible solutions - and then they managed to make Livingstone the only possible winner!

This little creep has now been censured for his outburst to a Jewish reporter from a newspaper he hates (because they are right wing and have exposed his failures over and over again!) in which he compared the man to a "Nazi Concentration Camp guard". Thus far he has refused to apologise - and probably never will. After all, it was this little idiot who invited one of the most virulently inflammatory anti-Jewish Imams to speak in the UK. He even found funds to pay the bills for the trip - and then declared that it was "justified" so that the "Anti-Israel" point of view could be heard!"

Suspend the little creep? Not nearly enough, send him to Austria and charge him alongside his pal Irving. They should make good cellmates - and London would have the benefit of being freed from this poisonous little snake's clutches! At the very least he should be barred from public office, suspension is far to lenient!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:38 PM | TrackBack

February 26, 2006

More thoughts on Genesis

The responses I have had from various commentators on the subject of understanding Genesis have made interesting and lively reading. I doubt we will ever agree on everything, but I think we certainly have some common ground on some of it.

There are two things that I always keep in mind when I am reading the Bible. First, that I am reading a translation, and, while I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, I do speak, read and write two other languages besides English and can make some progress in at least one more with the help of a dictionary, a patient speaker or a written text to read from. So I have some understanding of the difficulty of conveying the actual meaning of something from one language to another. Secondly, I am conscious of the need to understand the society and the people who wrote the original. All to often we try to associate the written word with our own understanding of society, rather than the society from whence it came. This is perhaps especially true of the Pentateuch, but it applies equally to the rest of the Bible. To truly understand it you need to understand the culture, the people and the events that wrote it, create it and gave rise to it. This is why the Islamic Faith regards any translation of the Quran as "informative, but not authentic!"

I think that what has brought this home to me more clearly than anything else, is having grown up in Africa, and having had the opportunity to observe the tribal cultures at first hand. Seeing that, and then seeing the desert tribes and cultures of the Near and Middle East certainly brought home to me the need to see much of what is written in our version of the Bible in the context of the peoples who lived it and wrote it. That is not to say that it is not God inspired, for that it certainly is, but I do say that it is interpretted and written down in the imperfect understanding of humanity and therefore may not be the entire story - after all, our lifespan is but a second in the endless time span available to God.

Does it matter to me whether a word means literally "a day" or some span of time measured in millions of years? Does it matter to me whether "Adama" - literally "Men" - and "Eva" - literally "women" - were created in one movement or at the end of a long evolutionary chain. No, it matters not one jot, because what does matter is that we are, through Jesus Christ, the adopted Children of God, redeemed through His death and Resurrection and living today in the full and glorious hope of the life everlasting.

The arguments over the apparent conflict between the geological and fossil records and the story in Genesis are an irrelevance if we believe that God tells us what is true and correct, since to argue that the fossils and the geological evidence were "created to mislead us" suggests that God is capable of lying and deceit. If that were to be true, then all of the Bible could be nothing more than an elaborate deceit - and that is not a God I am prepared to contemplate - much less worship. Scientific advances are, after all, yet another gift of God, He made us to be His companions according to Genesis and so would want us to strive to expand our horizons. Even the most arrogant among us should be prepared to admit that the more we learn, the more we discover that we have to learn. Therein, surely, lies the real purpose of science.

It is only by seeing the links between the evidnce, the scriptural accounts and by bridging the gaps with great leaps of faith that we can begin to understand the whole. To do otherwise is to remain, forever, locked in ignorance.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 24, 2006

Lost at Coronel 1914

Once again I have been painting ships, or a ship to be precise. This time it is the Armoured Cruiser, HMS Good Hope, flagship of the South Atlantic squadron under Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. Built in 1901 as one of a "Class" of four known as the "Drake" Class, they were obsolete when the First World War erupted in August 1914. Originally four ships, Drake, Good Hope, King Alfred and Leviathan, they saw a wide range of service with the loss of both the Good Hope and of the Drake. On paper they look like powerful ships, carrying a broadside battery of sixteen 6 inch guns (eight on each side), twelve 12 pounders (six a side in casemates) and two 9.2 inch guns in two single turrets.

HMS Good Hope undergoing speed trials in 1901. Painted from a photograph of the ship taken in the Channel.

The great weakness in this design is the arrangement of the batteries. The lower "Battery Deck" is so close to the waterline that in any sort of seaway, the ship is liable to rolling the lower battery of guns under and rendering them unusable in a battle. This is what happened to Good Hope and her consort Monmouth when Cradock attempted to engage the more powerful ships of Graf von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron off the Coronel Coast of South America on 1st November 1914 in a rising gale and heavy seas. The well balanced and better designed pair of heavy armoured cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau swiftly overwhelmed Good Hope and Monmouth, both lost with all hands, but the unfavourable weather conditions allowed the light cruiser Glasgow and the Armed Merchant Cruiser Otranto to escape. They joined up with the pre-Dreadnought battleship Canopus - Cradock had been ordered to wait for her to join him before he engaged the German squadron (and her twelve inch guns would have made at least some difference), but decided to act rather than be accused of failing to engage the enemy.

Even the Admiralty had difficulty understanding Cradock's decision, particularly as it was known that the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were superior ships and they had with them three light cruisers, Dresden, Nürnberg and Leipzig and an Auxilliary Cruiser, the liner Prinz Eitel Friedrich.

Glasgow and Otranto were very lucky to escape the massacre, only the worsening weather and the onset of the night saved them. However, the Monmouth's sister ships, Kent and Cornwall were at the Falklands a few months later when von Spee attempted to attack the capital, Port Stanley, and was in his turn surprised by the emergence of the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible. In an almost one sided fight, the two battlecruisers destroyed Scharnhorst and Gneisnau; Kent (burning her Wardroom furniture to supplement a shortage of coal!) caught and sank the Nürnberg; Cornwall and Glasgow caught and sank the Leipzig. There were no survivors from the Scharnhorst and only 90 of a crew of 400 from the Gneisenau. The other German ships crews fared slightly better, but not by much. Only Dresden escaped, but not for long, cornered, low on ammunition and coal, she was sunk at Mas a Fuego several months later.

And the Eitel Friedrich? She had been detached to patrol on the Coronel coast, but gradually found herself more and more hunted. She was eventually interred in a US port and ended the war as a transport for US Troops, surviving to serve again as a passenger liner until broken up in the late 1920's.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

The Prince is right.

Thanks to Tim of an Englishman's Castle I can link you to his reproduction of the Prince of Wales diaries. Personally I think it sums up the intrusion and absolute lack of decency of our so-called journalists that they see no problem with publishing someone's private thoughts, but I find myself in complete sympathy with the Prince on this one. The people making decisions and advising this government have absolutely no understanding or experience on the things they are deciding on.

This is probably why we have such a mess in the legislation, why everything this government has "modernised" now is half as efficient as it was and costs five times as much.

As to the publication of the diaries, it is a pity the High Court feels that the theft of the diary, and it's subsequent publication for the titilation of the Islington tittering classes, is not a breech of the Prince's privacy. I feel sure that had it been Mr Blair's diary, the noble Judge would not have hesitated to pronounce their publication a breech of the PM's "Human Rights" and a "threat to national security." As it is, this ruling opens a dangerous door, one which will no doubt be used to allow the selective publication of extracts which cause the Prince the maximum embarrassment - and I would also be pretty sure that the place to look for the thief is in the Number 10 Press Office. I have no doubt too, that they will attempt to argue that his thoughts are "public property" because his trip was funded by the taxpayer - but then I want to see exactly what Straw and the rest of our cabinet ministers write and think and say while travelling at my expense in luxury.

The most likely candidate for the theft and leak is one of Blair's apparatchiks, acting on the unwritten and deniable instructions of the Party "Black Press" team to continue their avowed campaign to blacken the monarchy by every means available and lay the ground for us to become a Republic - with Mr President Blair or Mr President Brown as it's head.

Pass me a pikestaff, London Bridge needs decoration.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:37 AM | TrackBack

February 22, 2006

Muslim against Muslim - but wait, it's all the fault of the US!

The appalling news today of the deliberate bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Iraq, actually betrays the fact that there is a struggle underlying the obvious turmoil of a country trying to re-invent itself. A struggle for power by religious fanatics against the more pragmatic "secular" politicians who wish to establish a democracy based on less rigidly religious lines.

The tragedy is, that in a country as volatile as the present Iraq, it is all too easy for this sort of atrocity to tip the country into a civil war - something it has almost succeeded in doing. Let us all hope and pray that the perpetrators fail, because, if they succeed, it will be very bad news for the entire world. The campaign over the "cartoons" is a part of this overall campaign to destabilise and reduce the will of the "free" world to resist these fanatics. It is a tried and trusted methodology, after all, it worked against the US in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Cuba and other South American countries - and it is still in use even now in North Korea. The strings of accusations, "revelations" of atrocities, all tie down valuable time and resources with ridiculous and time consuming investigations of complaints, allegations and slurs ably spread by means of a "free" press in the target country - and drip fed in heavily biased reports in the controlled media of the originator. It destabilises and creates an atmosphere of distrust, unease and fear - perfect for civil revolt if you provide the right incentive.

As ever, of course, the British, US and other Allied Forces there now have the unenviable task of trying to prevent the commission of further attrocities and of trying to keep the factions apart. Sunni Muslims are the majority - but only in parts - the rest are Shia, and many of Shi'ite Islam's holiest places are in Iraq. Ergo, the perpetrators have ready made targets. Worryingly, the bombers today wore Iraqi Police Uniforms, which should tell the world that the police have been infiltrated by the "insurgents", "agitators" or whatever you wish to call them. Even more worryingly, a leading Shia Imam managed to make a statement to the effect that the attack - by acknowledged Sunni Terrorists - was the fault of the presence in the area of US troops. It demonstrates clearly just how far from reality is any hope of rational judgement being exercised by those who see themselves as representing the religious interests of the people. It certainly tells me that no matter what they do, our and the US troops will always be seen by these, no doubt otherwise reasonably intelligent men, as anti-Islam.

The tragedy of the destruction of the Golden Dome over the shrine of the Imams is an indication of just how far the minds behind the attempts to provoke a civil war are prepared to go. We can only be thankful that there were no deaths - or at least none reported yet! But, let us be clear, this is not about faith, it is not about Islam, it is about power - and who wields it. Identify the people behind the bombers and you will find that it is a small group of radical Imams who, once they have reduced the country to a slaughterhouse, will emerge from the shadows to the acclaim of their followers and grab control - if the world allows them to do so.

Let us hope that the media frenzy which will no doubt follow, does not sway the minds that control our forces into allowing this to happen.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 08:15 PM | TrackBack

Wise deduction?

A teacher addresses a class with the statement:

"Now class, George Washington chopped down his father's cherry tree and admitted he'd done it. Any idea why his father didn't punish him?"

Quick as a flash a boy at the back replies:

"Because he still had the axe in his hand?"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Safer driving?

The latest announcement from the RAC, the AA and the government nannies responsible for the so-called "Motorist's Bible" - the Highway Code - should raise a number of concerns. It is suggested by these prize idiots - responsible for such idiocy as the dictat that states that if traffic in the lane to your right (the lane to your left in the US and EU) slows down for any reason, you must slow down as well to avoid "undertaking". It took them something like 40 years to realise that this was one of the many things responsible for the clogging of our motorways, as once some idiot got himself into the supposedly "fast lane" and then tried to change back and braked or slowed down, the entire damned motorway slowed down with him, trapping him there!

Now they are planning to make it "illegal" - the Highway Code is not "law" as such, but is given the credence and force of it by the Police and Courts - to use Satellite Navigation systems in private cars. So they deem it safer to have a map or a route planner print out in your lap so you can read it while you're driving? This has got to be the most stupid and ludicrous piece of moronic thinking since the law which still requires every self propelled vehicle to be preceded by a man on horseback with a red flag. What annoys me even more is the fact that the RAC and the AA support this idiocy!

Let's face it, there are some idiots out there who will fiddle with their SatNav as they drive - but then there are idiots out there who drive with their in car steroes on such a volume level you can hear them four cars away at 70 miles an hour on a motorway. Which is more dangerous, a motorist having his SatNav tell him an exit is coming up in 1.4 miles, and when to turn off the carriage way, or some clown bowling along and trying to read a map? I know which I prefer, and it isn't the map reader!

I bought my SatNav system precisely because I am not familiar with many of the places I have to go to and I cannot read a map and look for the street name signs (singularly absent in most towns I visit!) while driving my car. I need to keep my eyes on the road, the traffic and the moronic pedestrians that the law seems to think have a right to commit suicide by wandering into traffic as they wish. My SatNav allows me to concentrate on the driving and seeing the plethora of roadsigns and other hazards, while directing me clearly and without fuss to me destination.

Believe me I believe that SatNav, far from being the danger that the Whitehall wankers seem to weant to make out it is, is probably the best piece of safety equipment a car can be provided with! But, mark my words, these morons will write it into the Highway Code as a "distraction" and "hazardous item" alongside the clowns who still use mobile phones while hammering along motorways - and our ever willing police will haul every motorist they find with this "illegal" aid to safety into court.

I recommend that every person who agrees with me withdraws their support from the RAC and the AA immediately and tells them why.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Tim Blair's Blog

This is one I have to Blogroll - interesting, informative and needle sharp.


Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:14 AM | TrackBack

February 20, 2006

Support for the Armed Forces?

I will admit to almost falling off my chair yesterday morning as I heard our Secretary of State for Defence actually stating that the media are far too onesided in their reporting on our troops actions in Iraq! Good grief, I found myself agreeing with him! Help, I think I need a psychiatrist, at the very least a sedative! I'll be voting for the idiot next!

Having got over the shock (Oh, the shame, the shame!) of being in agreement with anything this government says, let alone one of the ministers whose understanding of the department he is responsible for is probably less than a schoolboy's, I would have to say that he is spot on the money on this one. The media are very quick to spread the word on anything that is to the discredit of the Troops, but never sullies their pages with anything about what they have achieved - unless it's to share the reflected glory of medals or heroism. Let's face it, the troops are involved in a great deal more than simply sitting in protected camps and taking potshots at the natives for their amusement!

In the early days it was these same troops who saw to it that food, medicine, water and shelter got to where it was needed. It is these guys who are helping rebuild and then protect the schools that the majority of Iraqi kids now attend. It is these guys who have repaired the hospitals, rounded up the murderers, lunatics and bombers and got them, by and large, off the streets. And most of them are under 30 years of age. In fact the vast majority are under 25. They deserve to have their praises sung from the roof tops and they deserve all the support we can give them, because it is through their efforts that Iraq will eventually emerge as a free, democratic and safe society, not through the efforts of the Press Corps or the money grabbing Human Rights lobbyists and lawyers clustering like vultures ready to denounce every soldier for sneezing out of place.

It says a great deal about the society in which we live that our troops are routinely treated as a "necessary evil" to be underpaid, kept on a leash and treated like second class citizens by our politicians, civil servants and the Media Circus - until the ordure hits the great big whirly thing - then, as Kipling once said in his poem - they all want to hide behind the lad in the camouflage outfit!But, as soon as he's sorted out their mess - they want to shove him back into the box and pretend he isn't there.

Tacitus wrote, Caesar quoted and Pliny commented that if you seek peace, you must prepare for war. Si vis pacem; para bellum. This is the lesson this present generation has forgotten and it is one we will all pay dearly to relearn.

The press is not alone in it's constant denigration of the soldiers conduct, they are, after all, merely repeating the lies, deceits and myths they learned from pacifist lecturers at university and polytech. Downing Street's Press Corps is comprised entirely of people who have no understanding of war, of uniformed services and of the ethos, discipline and camaraderie that pervades such organisations. Their creed is based entirely on the belief that if you denigrate everyone else and make them look bad, you somehow look better than they do in the eyes of the public. Look hard at this government and what do you see, a bunch of over privileged ex-hippies who used family advantage to get to the best schools, the best universities and to the top in the Party they belong to. Frankly they make the Roman Senate of Caesar's day look like a Sunday School outing, but they reflect the society they have created and represent, a society which cares only for it's own comforts and it's own image and prestige. Frankly we would be well served if the troops packed it in and told us all to get on with it ourselves - at the point of their bayonets!

Between our so-called "leaders" there is not one who can be termed a "worker" (I do not count "Union Official or Union Activist as being anything to do with real work!) and there is certainly not one who can claim to have served this country or any other in the Armed Forces. That is true too for the bulk of the Press Corps - not a sailor, soldier or airman among them, so they have no understanding whatever of the way the troops respond to threat - unless it makes good negative copy or film. This is why they have, between them, systematically destroyed the discipline codes, subjected the services to politically correct garbage and legislation and now wave "international law" at them at every opportunity.

Let's get a few things straight. Firstly, there is no such thing as "International Law". The UN is NOT a law making body. It never has been and it never will be. "International Law" is a concept, a myth that exists in the minds of the Socialist "Internationalist" elite and no where else, it is said to be comprised of treaties and agreements between states, but this too is a myth since no treaty is ever valid unless all parties agree fully to apply all the codices equally and in full - which they do not. This is a legalistic vision which is not only unworkable but entirely unenforceable. Secondly our Armed Forces have been reduced and equipment cut on the myth that the "end of the Cold War" brought a "Peace Dividend" which allowed us to cut the heart out of the armed services. Well, the world is a much more dangerous and unstable place since then - and it is getting more so all the time, particularly as our enemies see that our forces are stretched beyond breaking point! As a former First Sea Lord said in the House of Lord's in answer to the latest stupid statement by the government's motormouth in the Lord's "one ship may have the fire power of the entire Grand Fleet, but it remains one ship, in one place at one time". The Grand Fleet had over a thousand ships at it's disposal, with a permanent strength of over three hundred, including thirty battleships.

It is good the see the Secretary of State at long last standing up and saying that the briefing against our forces must cease, but I fear he is far too late. The damage is too far gone and the society we live in has been too far poisoned against the Armed Forces - indeed against anyone in a uniformed service. The "bad press" the military in Iraq and Afghanistan receive is merely a part of the whole, and the whole story is that the anti-military propaganda of the last fifty or more years is now coming home to roost.

I hope that Mr Reed, our Scottish Secretary of State for Defence, is able to persuade the media to be more positive in their reporting - but somehow I doubt it. The Guardianista Brigade who lead the Media don't like positive images of the military or any other uniformed service - it undermines their entire belief in Humanist "goodness" undermined by an evil scheming "Capitalist Military-Industrial" conspiracy.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More Ships

Another famous member of the Flying-P-Liners family is the Padua, now known as the Krusenstern. She was built in 1925 and went on her first journey in 1926. She was the last four mast bark built for transporting goods over the oceans. From the beginning she served as training ship sailing to Chile and Australia and carrying saltpetre and wheat.


The Krusenstern (the former Padua), a truly magnificent sailing ship

The ship is 114 m long, the area of her sails adds up to 3,400 square meters and the longest mast is 55 m high. That makes her slightly smaller than her sister 'Passat'.

060217_krusenstern02.jpg 060217_krusenstern03.jpg

On board the Krusenstern. Looking around one can't help thinking: "Those were the days ..."

The Padua made her last trip as a cargo ship in 1939, sailing from Glasgow to Hamburg. In May 1940 she sailed to Stettin (Szczecin) for the shooting of a film. Afterwards she stayed in the Baltic Sea and was used for training purposes. In 1943 she was even fitted with a gun but obviously she wasn't much use to the German Wehrmacht because she stayed in port for the rest of the war. In January 1946 she was handed over to the Russian Authorities.

The Padua received a proper overhaul and was renamed 'Krusenstern'. Until 1959 she was an official member of the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet but remained in port all the time nonetheless. She was remodelled again from 1959 - 1961 and after that served the Hydrographic Institute exploring the Atlantic, Carribean, and Mediterranean Sea. After being refurbished again in 1969 she has served as a training ship for sea cadets ever since. Her home port is now Kaliningrad.

The Krusenstern received another complete overhaul in 1993. From 1995-1996 she sailed around the world. When participating in the Cutty Sark Regatta in 1999 she came up third. Well done, indeed!

Posted by Mausi at 03:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 19, 2006

Young offenders might suffer the consequences of their own violence?

The news earlier this week that Lord Carlisle had published a report for the Howard League covering the deaths of young offender’s and attacking the guards at the Young Offender’s Institutions for using “pain” and “force” to control them aroused my interest, and then my anger. It is obvious that the authors of this latest piece of stupidity have never had to deal with violent and disturbed youngsters. Equally obviously, they have lost sight of the fact that they are in these institutions because they have committed, not one, but usually a string of offences, many of them involving the use of violence against a victim.

As is usual with anything published by a certain group of “child welfare” lobbyists, they have lost sight of the fact that these are youths who are, for the most part, a menace to the societies they come from. Instead they are portrayed as “victims” of a brutalising regime and a society that doesn’t care. Society does care, it cares a great deal as to whether or not we can walk down our streets without being attacked by a group of “Happy Slappers” or whether our children can go safely to the town centre without having their money, jewellery and mobile phones stolen. We are concerned too about the level of violence many of these so-called “children” deploy at the slightest provocation. These young people won’t learn that “violence begets violence” in the institutions – they already know that and are more than happy to initiate it.

Naturally nobody wants to see these young people further brutalised, but you do have to ask the question; how do we expect the guards to deal with a violent and abusive teenager, often bigger and stronger than the guards? Very often pain is the result of particularly violent struggling to avoid the consequences flowing from an attack on a guard or a refusal to “lay off” another inmate, but it is a consequence of action, not a deliberate intent.

It often seems to me, that the promoters of the concept of “don’t discipline your child, persuade and reward” miss the central point here. A child does not necessarily have the necessary language skills or the understanding - certainly in the early years of grow – to understand a reasoned argument, so occasionally, a sharp reminder is required. They also seem to completely deny the existence of some predispositions which arise when our genes incline us to certain behaviours, such as violent temper, lack of appreciation of consequences and quite possibly and tendency to simply be a person who cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. To admit that some of us may have such a genetic defect, is almost to admit that some people may not be “responsible” for their actions, and we don’t like that thought either! After all, we like to think that we are all able to control our own actions and our destiny, that it is a straight forward choice between “right” and “wrong”. Perhaps it is, once we have figured out what our “default” settings are – and then we have to learn to modify them, to behave within the accepted norms of society, or accept the consequences.

Personally, I hope that Mr Blair and his cronies place this report where it belongs, in the round filing cabinet to be found next to any desk.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:04 PM | TrackBack

February 18, 2006

Tall Ships

One of the 'landmarks' of Travemünde is the sailing ship 'Passat'. Travemünde is habour of Lübeck, one of the towns at the Baltic coast that belonged to the famous Hanseatic league.


The 'Passat', a four masted bark

The Passat is one of the legendary 'Flying-P-Liners'. These sailing ships were built at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century for the shipping company of F. Laeisz in Hamburg. Their names all began with 'P'. Best known are the Passat, Pamir, Padua, Potosi, Peking and the Preußen. These ships were famous for their speed. The masts of the Passat are 56 m high, the total area of the sails adds up to 4,600 square meters. The Passat could reach speeds of up to 18 knots! Among others the Passat was used to bring saltpetre from Chile to Europe.

The Passat was built in 1911 and made her first trip to Chile in 1912. On her second trip from Hamburg to Chile she needed only 73 days to reach Valparaiso. She served as a freight ship more or less until 1947. From 1952 until 1959 she was used as a training ship Since 1960 she has found a permanent home in Travemünde.

Her sister ship Pamir was built in 1905 and just like the Passat also served as training ship in the 1950's. In 1957 she went down in a heavy storm southwest of the Azores. She took 80 young seamen down with her, only six were rescued.

Once a year the 'Travemünder Woche' takes place. For a week Windjammers are gathered there and can be admired and visited. It may not be as grand as a similar event earlier in the year in Kiel but still - it is absolutely fascinating and well worth a visit. It's the one opportunity for the Passat to meet her sister Padua again, which now sails under Russian flag and is known as 'Krusenstern'. The other surviving sister, Peking, has found a new home in New York.

One of my favourites among these old ships, however, is the 'Alexander von Humboldt'. She was built in 1906. She is much smaller than the Passat, the area of her sails being less than a quarter of that of the Passat. Now owned by the German foundation 'Sail training' (DSST, Deutsche Stiftung Sail Training) and sailing around the world on various trips. Right now she can be found at Chilean coast.


The 'Alexander von Humboldt', easily recognised by her green sails

Posted by Mausi at 05:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Capital departure

Many years ago, the Monk was reading for a degree in Public Administration - one degree course he has never completed - and had to read a number of treatises on the theory of Macro-economics. It was probably this more than anything else that convinced him that -

(a) economics isn't a science, and
(b) those who have lots of money get more, those who haven't get even what they have taken away from them.

This is probably why he upset all the lecturers on the subject. However, one of the many references he was obliged to read in pursuit of this deep and meaningful insight, included in interesting treatise by the Treasurer of Louis XIV of France. This gentleman wrote that all the wealth of the world was finite, and that it tended to be concentrated wherever a countries laws allowed it freedom of use, opportunity to be increased (presumably at someone else's expense) and the taxation system allowed the "owner" to keep the major portion of his wealth intact. He predicted, correctly as it turned out, that the France of Louis XIV would remain a centre for the wealth of the world only as long as those factors were in place - or until some other nation offered a better environment. The reign of Louis XV tried the taxation route to increase Royal coffers and swiftly accelerated a trickle of wealth transfer to something more like a flood - yet it did not really become fully apparent that this had happened until the French Revolution.

One reason that the Russian revolution failed economically is almost certainly because the real capital, the liquid assets of the nation, had gone long before the revolution actually occurred, all that remained were the non-liquid assets which have no value if they cannot be used to create or generate income. This pattern has been repeated numerous times since then, Britain under the various Socialist inclined regimes pre-Thatcher, saw a flood of wealth being transferred offshore, leaving only the "hard" assets which, again, decreased in value as soon as they could no longer be part of the wealth generation process. As soon as the taxation policy changed and the wealthy could have their wealth here and enjoy the full benefit of a system which allowed them to keep most of it, the money came pouring back. But, could the trend be about to go into reverse?

The Monk had this interesting thought as he watched the news a few days ago, on which it was announced that yet another of the countries iconic companies, was being bought out by a comapny in Dubai. The liquid assets - and in this case a lot of "hard" ones as well - have suddenly ceased to be based in the UK and now belong to the "wealth" of a foreign nation. To be sure, the trade and at least some of the employment remains here in the UK, but the real wealth generator, the profits, have moved abroad. The capital, the instrument for wealth creation, is gone, because even the money that came this way to the "sellers" has catually gone into offshore holdings and accounts, very little will be lying around in UK assets!

Looking around, it soon becomes apparent that a very large number of the supposed "assets" that make up much of the so-called "National" wealth are, in fact, foreign owned. Several of the bigger banks are majority owned and controlled from abroad, most of the larger shipping lines, even those that have ships "flagged" in the UK, are in fact owned in toto or in part, by foreign "holding" companies and their assets - the ships - are in fact owned by the banks, which, you've guessed it, are owned by foreign based companies. So, it would appear that the "assets" both of a "liquid" nature, and some at least of the solid ones, are already departing from the control of this government.

Our Armed Forces are being reduced, undermined and further reduced, while the bureaucracy grows apace - a letter in a recent edition of the "Times" certainly points that up. According to it's authors, under the heading of "Regulatory Reform", the government has simply introduced a mechanism for the Government and the Civil Servants to bypass Parliament and impose further restrictions and laws without the traditional tests. The arms industry has been broken up piecemeal, asset stripped, sold off and shipped abroad. Our car industry has had the same thing done to it, with almost all vehicles now manufactured here being built by foreign owned companies. The capital has simply moved away to new "growth" points elsewhere, and as the capital goes, the assets follow - and so do the jobs, the industries and eventually, the commercial activities.

We no longer innovate, we no longer manufacture those few things that we do manage to innovate, the accountants simply sell the idea abroad - and ideas are a form of capital as well. In the 18th Century only a complete fool would have considered spending the money they held as "capital" in liquid assets earning income, now it seems to be almost commonplace to do so and one wonders why we are encouraged to do so, unless it is simply a way in which we can be encouraged to part with what little capital we do possess in order that some offshore holder can move it abroad. Perhaps the 17th Century Treasurer to Louis XIV was not so far off the mark after all. Europe is no longer a place where wealth can be accumulated - so it is moving abroad.

No wonder the "unemployment" figures keep rising. And it is probably too late to even attempt to stop it - and no one has yet succeeded in doing so. Enlightened self interest among the wealthy, the powerful and those in possession of the wealth take good care to make certain that any attempt to do so is doomed to fail.

If I am right, it may well be an interesting world in the next decade or so!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Land of Sledge Dogs

One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited certainly is the little village of Saqqaq at the North end of the Disco Bay on the West coast of Greenland. Getting there was a bit of an adventure in itself. We came by boat but as there's no harbour in Saqqaq we had to be ferried to the village in a small rubber dinghi. You can just see it coming back for more of us on the left side of the photo below.


The picturesque village of Saqqaq

The water was crytal clear and very cold and while sitting in that rubber thing you could look straight to the bottom of the sea several meters below us. What slightly worried me was that the two Inuit who ferried us ashore were pumping air into the dinghi all the time while smiling broadly at us. I didn't think this reassuring in the least and had checked the straps of my backpack repeatedly to make sure that I could get out of those in no time at all should we sink or I fall overboard. I was ever so glad when I had firm ground under my feet again.

We were a group of 16 and had rented a house in Saqqaq which served as a sort of base camp for several short trips into the mountains and along the coast. The South of Greenland (at least on the West coast) belongs to the sheep dogs and no sledge dogs are allowed there. But the North is sledge dog land and Saqqaq is part of it.

On the first morning I made the aquaintance of a gang of sledge dog puppies. As long as their are puppies they are allowed to run free, later they are kept on a chain. Houses in Greenland very seldom have a bathroom, usually the kitchen is used for that purpose. With 16 people around it gets rather cramped in the mornings so those of us who dared took a big bowl of water outside and washed in the open. I was still a bit sleepy when suddenly six puppies were all over me. One tried to steal my bar of soap, two were having a fight over my towel, one was trying to drink up my water, another one tried to run off with a piece of my clothes and the last one was trying his very best to be in my way as much as possible. With much shouting and laughing I was able to get my things back and finally finished my morning toilet. At that age they are really cuddly. But not anymore once they are grown up.


Six grown up sledge dogs

The thing about sledge dogs is that they melt perfectly into the background. It is very easy to overlook them. And they will let you approach them until you within reach of their chain. And then without warning they suddenly explode into your face. I once had an adult sledge dog following me when going for a walk near the village and it gave me quite an eerie feeling.

Almost from the day they can walk children will practice hitting cans or other targets real hard with pebbles for hours on end. By the age of five or six they can hit a dog right between the eyes and scare it off. One must bear in mind that sledge dogs in Greenland are no pets. Being kept on a chain during the summer with nothing much to do certainly doesn't improve their temper or social behaviour. But at least summers don't last long in Greenland ...

Posted by Mausi at 09:50 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2006

More history in the stones and timbers ...

As mentioned in a previous post, the Old Friends Meeting House in Tewkesbury, has quite a chequered history. The lovely house it is now has seen the "riot" which arose when the then Church Warden's had Mr George Fox and his supporters arrested for their dissenting views and "unlawful" preaching. It became a Public House when the "Friend's" moved on in the early 18th Century, and remained so until the mid-19th when it lost it's license because of unruly behaviour among it's licencee and his clientelle. Then, it became two small cottages, and now it is once more, one single dwelling.

The Old Friends Meeting House in Tewkesbury with the entrance to the Friends Burial Ground visible at the side.

When originally built, the ground floor was occupied as a "normal" home, with the entire upper storey being used as the "Meeting" room. It was here that such luminaries of the "Quaker" or "Societies of Friends" movement as Mr George Fox met and preached - in clear breach of the law which, at that time, made it illegal to practice any form of worship, or to preach any teaching, not set out in the parliamentary approved "Book of Common Prayer" and in conformance with the "Act of Conformity of Worship". It was the attempt to enforce the provisions of this Act which caused the "riot" in which Mr Fox was arrested.

On another occassion twelve men were arrested in the front room of the house for illegal assembly - in other words refusing to attend the Abbey! The real disgrace was that the men were deliberately targetted because this removed them and their tools from competion with "conformist" tradesmen - and left their families to starve.

As a modern Church Warden of the Abbey, I would be appalled if anyone tried to get me to act in this way. Perhaps this is a measure of just how far we have managed to move since those far off days of strife in which our faith was abused for the financial and business advantage of a few.

Thankfully we have begun to learn how to behave as Christians.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:47 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Medieval views

The area of the old town of Tewkesbury, from the Cross to the Abbey, contains a range of ancient and some more modern, buildings. It must be said, however, that "modern" in this area is a relative term, since there is very little later than the 19th Century on view. The town was fortunate to have been spared the bulldozers of the 1960's and only one area, at the Northern end of the town was replaced by the utilitarian architecture of that era of wholesale destruction of heritage buildings. The area round the Abbey was saved by the prompt action of a number of people who used the auspices of a Charitable Trust set up in the early 20th Century to preserve the grounds around the Abbey itself from development, to buy up the row of 14thCentury Merchants houses which separate the Abbey from the busy roadway, part of the A38.

The view, much as it has been since the 12th Century, of the Abbey tower, seen from The Old Friends Meeting House in St Mary's Lane. On the right is a recently restored and renovated shop and house dating to the late 14th Century and the Merchants Houses date from around the same period.

The Merchants Houses were once part of the Abbey Desmense and the rents would have gone to the Abbey Treasury. Now they are owned by a charitable trust whose purpose is to preserve the Abbey surrounds for posterity. These picturesque and now comfortable homes have not always been so. By the 19th Century and into the mid-20th Century this area had been allowed to degenerate quite badly, eventually becoming a slum. Since the 1960's restoration, repair and private residents have done much to completely revitalise the whole area and this has benefitted the town as a whole.

Well worth a visit and the time to explore it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:39 PM | TrackBack

February 13, 2006

Another egocentric blog?

Well, well, well, according to some research carried out for a German newspaper, bloggers are not responsible for the decline in journalistic standards in the wider media. At least, that is the message you get if you read the original German dialogue and not the abridged translations. Apparently we may be simply egocentric hackers with no training in journalistic skills, but we are still doing better than the journalists who fail to observe even the most elementary of "Journalistic Standards". Now I wonder which ones those would be? Balanced reporting? Sell more papers through sensational headlines? Push our particular (or the publishers) political agenda? To hell with facts, get a good story?

I picked up the original debate and the first source from another blogger, called David's Medienkritik in his rather well put together piece entitled SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview: "Bloggers are often Narcissistic Egocentrists". The researcher is obviously serious in his assertion that the majority of bloggers are simply attention seekers who do not give a fig for the facts on any given subject but simply want to make a noise. In some senses he may well be right on some issues, but there are many of us who do try to get it right, even though, strictly speaking, we have no "professional" obligation to do so. Still, I guess he's entitled to his opinion, and probably has the data to support it, but I have to say that I agree with David when I look at the examples of reporting in Der Spiegel on US politics and policy. I would hardly call it balanced, and even some of the facts are not quite accurate - close, but not accurate.

So, does the good Dr Lief have a case? He most certainly does when he charges the journalists with failing to do more than simply "google" their researches and copy anything they find on the internet. Interestingly, a lot of what was being said in blogs supportive of the Democratic Party campaign in the US, was repeated as "fact" in some European news media - including Der Speigel - leaving one wondering about the sources the reporter used!

Does he have a case in accusing bloggers of being egocentric? Well, perhaps, since there must be an element of attention seeking in keeping a blog. Who among us is really happy knowing that no one out there is really interested in what we think or say? I know I'm enough of an egotist to hope that a few people at least think about some of my ramblings, but does it really matter to me whether its thousands or tens? Probably not in the longer run, but then, I'm not trying to make a living out of peddling my thoughts on any given subject, I do this more as a way of expressing myself and my opinions and sharing these with friends whom I probably see very infrequently. Occassionally I will feel strongly enough to make a more public noise, and usually I will at least try to ensure my facts are straight. This piece is a case in point - my first source gave a distinctly tilted view, it being a precis of a translation. Thanks to my second source, I got access to the full German version, and it becomes clear that the attack is on lazy journalists, not on bloggers!

So, are bloggers responsible for the decline in journalistic standards? Contrary to the impression created in the original precis, Dr Lief is attacking lazy journalism, and I think that this spin on his aside on blogging is more a desperate attempt to find a scape goat for the mass media's realisation that we are onto them. They have also realised that people have woken up to their attempts to control our thinking and to mould it to their world view. They do have to realise that many of us now have access to sources which allow us to check on the accuracy and bias of the news media. The BBC is at last waking up to the fact that we no longer accept their "party line" as being unbiased and are striving to be more even. Perhaps the message for the author of this study and for the publishers of magazines and newspapers should be - start giving a full, informative and accurate report, and perhaps then, you will see a decrease in attacks from the blogosphere!

In the meantime I will keep blogging, and reading other peoples blogs whenever I have a chance. There can be no better way to form a balanced opinion than to read other peoples takes on a range of issues and then weigh up the facts for yourself. That is the key difference between reporting for the media and blogging - I can voice my opinion and my slant on the facts, a journalist should be reporting the facts, not his or her opinion of what the facts should be.

Am I an ego-centric blogger? I'll leave the jury to decide that one, but I suppose I should plead guilty and be done with it.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

An interesting corner of history

The ancient market town of Tewkesbury sits astride the confluence of the River Avon, (or Afon in Gaelic - which means it is called the River River!) and the Severne. It is at least a Saxon foundation, and probably earlier than that, as we have on the hills surrounding us various "hill forts", "castles" and "camps" at Bredon, Embury and Kemerton to name but a few, so human settlement of this area certainly predates the Roman period.

It is an interesting place for many reasons, King John had a castle here to guard the ford over the Severne, Edward IV secured the Crown of England here and the Duke of Clarence and Edward Lancaster, Prince of Wales, are buried here. The town's name is a corruption of the name of a 7th Century hermit who established a hermitage where the Abbey now stands, called Theoc. Over the years Theoc's Bury has become Tewkesbury. Certainly the present Abbey Church, built between 1102 and 1121, replaced an earlier Saxon building and the Abbot's Residence, now the Vicarage, has a Saxon undercroft.

Of more recent date, the town has also seen the start of a number of other branches of Christianity, certainly we have the oldest Baptist Chapel in England, hidden away down a "Court" almost on the Abbey's doorstep! This fascinating building was disguised as a pair of houses, complete with false front doors and windows to give it the "domestic" appearance. Personally I find it difficult to believe that the Vicar, Church Wardens and other Church authorities could not have known what was in fact being built, but they do seem to have "tolerated" it despite the Acts of Religion then in force. Recently though, I discovered that the earliest Baptist "missionaries" to the North American Colonies, actually worshipped here and were among the founders of this chapel. Thus, there is a link between the Deep South Baptist churches of the modern US and this ancient Town and Borough!

The Old Baptist Chapel, nestling under the shadow of the Abbey and designed to appear to be two cottages, hence the different windows!

A few lanes further back and nearer the town "centre" stands a small cottage known as "The Old Friends Meeting House", another "Non-conformist" chapel originally disguised as a house. When the "Friends" abandoned it, it became a public house, and then was divided into two small cottages. The present owner, a friend of mine, has restored it to a single dwelling and regularly invites the "Friends" to hold their meetings there. After all, her back garden is in fact their burial ground! This house too has strong links with the Quaker pilgrims, many of their leading lights having at some time worshipped here. In the window of the living room is an account of the "riot" outside the house in the late 17th Century at which Mr Fox, then the leader of the "Friends" and several of his followers were arrested by the Church Wardens of the Parish for holding a meeting likely to incite a disturbance.

The back of the Old Friends Meeting House and a part of the burial ground, now a park.

I find it ironic that my friend, now the owner, is, with me, one of the successors to those Church Wardens. I hope we have a more tolerant attitude towards our fellow Christians. After all, we are all serving the Lord in our own way, and the style of worship is, I think, a matter of conscience.

I find it fascinating that this ancient town with the Abbey at its centre, is also the home of such diverse branches of the Christian family as the Baptists and the Society of Friends. Perhaps the past has an important lesson for the future - in tolerance and understanding. It is my belief that the great Abbey Church in Tewkesbury was saved by the town for the very reason that it had always tried to accommodate the town, something we still try to do.

If you are passing through this way, do stop and visit, not just the Abbey, but the little Baptist Chapel hidden in it's "Court" and the lovely Old Friends Meeting House and Burial ground. Do stop and think a little on the people who created these places of worship, and on their contribution to our world today.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Kalaallit Nunaat

That is the Inuit name for Greenland and it means 'The Land where the Humans live'. If you go there nowadays you might wonder why people chose to live there at all, apart from the breathtaking view of the scenery during the six weeks of summer, of course. Greenland is still a very difficult place to live because of its climate but how much harder must life have been before the advent of motor boats and sledges.


A kayak used for hunting in the old days

The photograph shows a kayak as it was used for hunting in the old days. You see a small screen of sailcloth in the front which was used for cover when sneaking up on a seal. The hunter would also take it with him when 'boarding' a floe and hide behind it while stealing up on his belly towards his prey. On the paddler's right side you see the harpoon, securely fastened to the deck. Behind him, attached to the rope of the harpoon, is a seal bladder filled with air. That would prevent the wounded seal from diving and thereby escaping.

The man in the boat wears an anorak, a piece of clothing invented by the Inuit. It keeps the wind and the water out. It was usually fastened to the kayak itself so that water was effectively prevented from getting into the boat. Another thing which is mandatory for survival in arctic water is that one masters the art of the eskimo roll. Contact between water and body must be kept to an absolute minimum.

060206_inuit.JPGIf it has been hard to survive the rest of the year how much harder must it have been in winter time. Contrary to common belief Igloos were only used as temporary shelter during hunting trips or when traveling for other reasons. Family groups usually spent the winter in camps where they built a 'Quarmaq'. A hole - the size of a big room - was dug into the soil and then whatever material was found (stones, bits of turf, shrubs, driftwood, and occasionally whalebones) were used for the walls and the roof. Gaps were sealed with bits of turf and snow. The whole group would lived together in one room. That meant no privacy at all but would ensure the survival of the group because it was the only way to keep the room warm.

The photo on the right shows a grandfather proudly presenting his granddaughter. The little girl wears a traditional dress. The trousers are made from sealskin. The boots are called 'Kamikker' and were usually only worn inside a house or tent. To make the leather for it soft and flexible it had to be chewed for a long time - a task that fell to the old women in the family.

Grandfather and granddaughter welcoming the Danish Queen in 1982

The nomadic life of the Inuit finally ended at about 1960. In Greenland now most of them live in 'proper' wooden houses.

Posted by Mausi at 09:25 PM | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

A moderate voice at last!

I watched the Clive James late night chat show last night with mounting hope that, at long last, the trend to pander to the sensibilities of a fanatical few among the Muslim community could be at, at least, the beginning of the end. My only question is; why was the discussion and the young lady around whom the interview centred, shown so late at night? This should be shown and repeated often on daytime and on prime time broadcasts!

The young woman, and I regret that I do not have her name, was passionate, Muslim, and vehemently opposed to the demonstrations last week, the radicalisation of her faith and - absolutely fabulously - opposed to the Police's "softly, softly", handling of it! As she pointed out to the other members of the panel - both politicians from major parties - had it been BNP demonstrators, the police would not have held off "for fear of provoking a riot", they would have waded in and caused one! Frankly she outclassed both the politicians who were back footed and had to accept that she was not only right, but far more representative of the majority of Muslims in this country than those one normally hears and sees in the papers and on TV. Commenting on the hysteria surrounding the publication of the now infamous cartoons, she pointed out that these had been published in Cairo a month after they appeared in Jyllands-Posten and had created almost no comment - then, three radical Imams from Denmark made a trip to the Middle East and evidently spoke to people she called "Radicalist Islamic Godfathers". Within weeks, all hell had broken loose, something she vehemently decried!

It was refreshing, to say the least, to hear such a passionately put case from someone who is quite definitely moderate and believes in practicing her faith, dealing with the conflicts in a modern world. I think both politicians were taken aback by her saying bluntly that the disaffected young Muslim men who run about shouting anti-Western, and particularly anti-British, slogans should be told to go and live in any of the countries they consider so much better for Muslims. As she said, they don't know what they are talking about, but if they are so sure they want to live in countries where poverty is institutional - send them on their way!

I sincerely hope that this young lady gets the support she deserves from the rest of the moderate Muslim community. She made a lot of sense and showed incredible bravery by coming on the show and speaking out as she did. The fact that she was not wearing a Hijab and was modestly dressed in smart casual and distinctly "Western" clothing, is probably more than enough to get her onto the radicals hit list. The fact that she has spoken out against them, is more than enough for one of these idiots to try putting out a Fatwah. Let us hope that our police are, for once, alert to this and take steps to deal firmly and quickly with anyone who even thinks about it!

Her argument needs to be widely heard and it needs to be debated at every level of our society. She made the telling point that the UK is at least twenty years ahead of the rest of Europe and - her words - centuries ahead of the the Muslim world. Anyone who wants to destroy that is a fool.

Her final arguments were all directed at the government and the police, as she made an impassioned plea to them to stop treating Muslims as somehow "different" and needing "special consideration". She argued that this is only stirring up even more hatred among the likes of the BNP and encouraging the radicals among her community who think they are untouchable. She made a very firm plea, and both politicians could only nod sagely as they listened, for Muslim radicals and troublemakers to be treated in exactly the same way as would any white or Christian radical or troublemaker.

It was really refreshing to hear someone from the Muslim community speaking out so forcefully againt the radicalisation of her faith. Let us hope that the government and the Muslim Community, now swings behind her and deals with the radicals. They have no place in our society.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:46 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Visiting readers

From time to time, I like to run a check on where the readers of this blog are coming from in geographic terms. It is fascinating to run a check and see that they are spread right across the Northern Hemisphere - I even get occassional readers from Russia, China and Japan - with a scattering of friends South of the Equator in South Africa and Australia.

Some of the service provider addresses are intriguing, for example "cox.net" in the US and Canada, which is apparently linked to some sort of "Family" corporate activity since I have seen it in e-mails I have received since signing up to the Genographic Survey. But, for me, the most interesting part is the location of the people visiting - it gives me a bit of a window on the world and the "family of man" - and what they access, not always an easy thing to identify.

I am often reminded that I am, essentially, a curmudgeon, albeit one who works hard not to be, so it is flattering to find that people find my ramblings interesting. I suppose there must be many others out there who can qualify for membership of my newly formed Universal Church of Latter Day Cynics. As self appointed Cardinal Archbishop, I can offer appoinments of Bishop for anyone wanting to form a Diocesan group, and Archbishoprics to those with a Provincial grouping in mind.

All unpaid, of course!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:37 AM | TrackBack

February 09, 2006

Fog and frost

For several days in the past week my part of the UK has been covered by a sort of fog. I say "sort of" because it is fog in some places, mist in others and a general blanket of overcast everywhere. Cap that with temperatures hovering between -4*C and 2*C and we get some interesting effects - like freezing fog.

The frozen frost coating the trees at the top of "Fish Hill" above Broadway on the edge of the Cotswolds.

This combination of cold and fog conditions produces a lethal situation in which black ice forms on the road surface, birds are trapped by their feet freezing to the tree branches and telephone wires and the lack of visibility. It looks pretty, but it can be very dangerous to motorists and certainly is lethal to a range of small birds and animals.

Unusually this time we have seen the frozen fog only in patches, such as this one along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment and not further into the plateau. In addtion, as can be seen from the picture, the frost decorates only the trees from about two feet above the ground, suggesting that the ground's latent heat is sufficient to prevent it forming closer the ground. The temperatures have been very low (for the UK) but they have not produced snow.

The lack of snow, coupled with a lack of rain in recent months means we are facing a shortage of water as has been highlighted by several newspapers lately. Coming from one of the drier bits of Africa, I must say that I have difficulty getting my head around the fact that we have had more rain than many parts of the area I came from get in a year - yet we are facing a drought. I guess it's back to the perspective and what you are used too!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:08 PM | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Questions of balance

The shouting and the tumult has not yet died down over the "Mohammed Cartoons", nor is it likely to until the focus of the mass media shifts away from the ranting rent-a-mobs to something else. Interestingly the Police, who only last summer saw no problem with attacking the orderly Countryside Alliance protesters with batons and teargas, opted to adopt a "softly, softly" approach to the ranting mobs waving demands for the beheading of those who "insult Islam" and for Jihad and war on the EU. It seems that it is alright to attack law abiding and upper income bracket taxpayers, but not baying packs of fundamentalists - particularly if they are from a "disadvantaged minority".

At least the police's tactics are now being called into question and they have, reluctantly, issued a statement declaring that they are examining film footage to see if charges can be brought of incitement. Had that been a crownd of white "English" people waving similar placards, you can be certain that they would have been attacked and up before the Magistrates by now, but then, that would be different, wouldn't it? After all, white English people protesting must be members of the Far Right, aren't they? Definitely enemies of the State and of the nice Mr Blair's vision of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Britain. A vision which, with the recent conviction of that peace-loving promoter of harmonious relations, Abu Hamza for "incitement to murder" and the re-arrest of the clown who dressed up as a bomber for the protest at the Danish Embassy, is beginning to look a little frayed!

All of this calls into question the balance at present between what is acceptable behaviour or demands from one section of the community and that which may be exercised by another. Why has it taken so long and so much pressure from the "silent majority" to get this to happen? This is really the whole of the problem, and not least, the reason why the rather small circulation Danish paper published the cartoons in the first place. The EU is at present being "invaded" by large numbers of people seeking a better life than they can hope for in their own countries of origin for a wide variety of reasons. As with the ancient Roman Empire, where a similar thing happened, eventaully you have entire cities being taken over by large groups from cultures totally alien to the culture that they admired enough to want to live in it. That is when the lines start to blur, as slowly the emmigrants culture starts to dominate, and soon the original inhabitants are in a minority in their own land. Islamic invaders have done this several times over the last thousand years, not least in the Middle East where they infiltrated, then dominated the Southern half of the Byzantine Empire, gradually taking control by means of the steady movement of their own people into key posts. When this failed, they called up armies and seized power by force of arms. An item by a news reporter called Mark Stein actually sums up very well the dilemma we all face in this stupid drive to create a "muli-cultural" paradise - and says why he belives it cannot work.

As Mr Stein points out, the "invaders" have often been aided and abetted by legislatures who have tried to "preserve" principles of fairness and advantage by resorting to legislation - which almost inevitably results in abuse and conflict. The present efforts in the UK and the EU to "give equal status" are in fact nothing of the sort, it is a shor cut to the undermining of the entire Western tradition and handing over the cultural leadership and control to the extremists. That is not healthy and will achieve nothing but the subjugation of Europe and quite possibly the entire Western democratic ideal to the corrupt and draconian dictatorship concepts promoted by the Sharia exponents of the Muslim fanatic persuassion.

While I see no benefit in deliberately seeking to cause affront to the Muslim communities, I would also say that they had better learn to show the same respect and consideration for those whose countries they wish to reside in. In the meantime, perhaps our own politicians should begin to defend our much eroded "liberties" a bit better - and perhaps get the police to address the question of balance and fairness properly - instead of following the Commissioners latest politically correct dictat.

It begins to seem to many of us, that the "institutional racism" is endemic - in the minds and actions of the politically correct commissars currently managing the civil service and the police! I wonder how the government's Thought Police would respond to anything like the cartoons available in the Arab press and thoughtfully provided by the "Honest Reporting" site. Probably tell us that they're OK - after all they aren't religiously inspired, are they?

And just to show a bit of "balance" I found a website which gives a very large number of images of the Prophet Mohammed - the vast majority drawn by Muslims.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:26 PM | TrackBack

February 07, 2006

Reply to KY Packrat

For some reason the MT comment blocker won't let me post this as a comment - it says it is "questionable content", so I am having to reply as a post! This isn't the first time it has happened, usually when I am trying to respond to someone, but as it won't tell me what the "questionable" content is, I cannot adjust it to beat the block! So, here goes .....

I suspect that we will never fully agree on this. I do not read Genesis in the absolute terms that you do obviously, and I think that Day 1 saw the beginnings of formation, not a firmament and fully formed planet. Also "the earth was without form" could be reconciled with the accretion disc postulated in planetary formation. Both "firmament" and "waters" have different interpretations open to them, and could as well say "elements" and "moving surface" without losing the apparent intent. Chapter 1 of the book is also, in my view, a construct, in that it ends with the creation of men and women, but Chapter 2 specifically starts with the Garden of Eden, a story found also in the infamous Ballad of Gilgamesh. (Interestingly, Romanian Gypsies argue that they are the children of these men and women and not the children of Eve - and therefore not subject to the curse on the children of Eve to work and feel pain!)

While I do not accept the literal interpretation of the beginning of this Book, I do accept the hand of God in the overall act of creation, and, just as He is for you, Jesus Christ (or if you prefer, Yeshua bar Joseph) is my saviour and Lord, the only begotten Son of God. In fact the only way to understand His position in our common faith is in the opening words of John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ..."

As you point out, "Yom" is a word with dual meaning, and general rules dictate that it is a specific meaning with a number, however, there are exceptions, and these were pointed out to me by a Hebrew speaker who finds our arguments over this amusing. I have not seen any of the research you refer to, I'm afraid my normal work is in the realms of the scientific, primarily forensics which means I am not normally in contact with the sort of research they appear to be doing, and I would wish to study these carefully before commenting on them. It is, however, my experience (and my disappointment) that many such researchers in the past have fallen into the trap of only including in their researches those things which support their hypothesis, something that is all too easy to do if you start from a particular viewpoint and a determination to "prove" the correctness of the view. (This applies in my discipline as well - all to often the investigator will "see" only what he or she is expecting to see or wanting to see!)

My faith is built on the simplicity of the declaration of Faith known as the Apostle's Creed and a lifetime of exploration and wonderment at the diversity and magic of the creation all around us, not on whether a piece of poetic description contained in a book gathered from several different sources is scientifically (or any other form of examination) accurate. God has worked and is working His planned Creation through any means at His disposal, that is all I have to hold in mind and sufficient for my faith.

As a Rabbi once said to me, "Science is for the things we can work out and understand; Faith is for everything else!"

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Reading a passage from Genesis at a service recently, I was again struck by the fact that there was nothing in what I was reading which in any way conflicts with the scientific explanantion of how the Solar System, the Sun, the planets and, indeed, the universe was formed. Genesis is, after all, a poetic version of an event so vast and so magnificent in its execution that it is, even now, almost incomprehensible to anyone who has not had the opportunity to look through a telescope or study any of the "Earth Sciences", geology, geography and so on. Written probably from an oral tradition sometime around 600 - 500 BC, it is a fairly good explanation for nomads and country folk whose lives revolved around food production and the daily needs of the community. Science hardly came into it.

Another version of this story, a more scientific one, is to be found in the Apocryphal books of Enoch. It is these that St John quotes in his Gospel, particularly the opening lines of Chapter 1, "In the beginning was the Word .... (In some translations more accurately "the Deed" ...). Many minds across the ages have wrestled with the problem of reconciling the Scriptural version and the observations they were making regarding the movement of stars, planets and even the changes in the sun or the moon. The Earth itself is constantly changing so the origins of science lie in our attempts to make sense of these. Why does one side of a mountain get better rain than the other is a question which affects crop growth, and consequently why one agricultural community may thrive and another starve!

As we have learned more about our environment we have come to realise - several unsuccessful experiments in creating "Ecospheres" have certainly helped - that the world we live in is filled with symbiotic relationships, as is the entire universe. Remove any one of the pillars of any given ecosystem, and it all rapidly begins to unravel! Certain plants depend on bees for pollination, other on birds, you simply cannot remove these aspects from the system and expect it to continue in the same form. Even the dreaded and irritating mosquito has a place in the ecosphere and removing it upsets the food chain in an escalating cascade until suddenly the higher order animals are starving.

A good example is Australia's Koala Bear (incidently not a member of the Ursus or Bear family at all!) which is so specialised an eater that it eats only some of the Euchalypts and not others. In fact, with regional variation, the Koala population in one area cannot readily move to another because the Euchalypts in the new area may not provide the diet they need. We simply do not, at this stage, understand the interrelationships of all the creatures who populate this planet with us.

For me, Darwin's great work on Evolution is as much a revelation of God's work in the ongoing act of creation as is the poetry of Genesis. For it is in Darwin that we begin to see the infinite slowness and the infinite patience that is the "work in progress" of Creation as a whole. Homo Sapiens is currently the pinnacle (as far as we know - some would say it is dolphins or the orca family who are simply too intelligent to let us know it) of the creation here on this planet, but are we the final product, or a "work in progress" destined to adapt and change (as the dinosaurs have done as the ecosystem changed with the climate, ice ages and comet impacts, becoming alligators, rhinocerii, lizards and snakes) as the work progresses. I rather hope and think the latter, that we are in the process even now of evolving a higher species who may take us that one step closer to God than we are now.

The current debate among those who favour "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" I think misses several points, the most important being that God has at His disposal infinite resources, time and space. We can only know that nothing is impossible to Him however improbable it may seem and however unlikely it may appear. He may use any method he desires to achieve His ineffable plan - and evolution is as much one of His tools as is gravity, the air and water - even the food we eat. Homo Erectus, Homo Habilis and Homo Neanderthalis have all had their place in our ascent, the next stage may already be underway and it is really exciting to think that they may even be among us now.

The poetry of Genesis expresses the understanding of creation as received by a nomadic people - a people, moreover, who understood the world to be a sphere as witnessed by the writings of ancient Egypt from whom the Israelites drew a great deal of their traditions. Our understanding of the mechanics of creation has since been expanded and we have access to sights and tools the writers of Genesis could not have dreamed of. Does this degrade any part of our faith?

Not unless you have so narrow a view and so shallow a faith, that it cannot stand up to scrutiny and review. That is a terrible shame and an indictment of our refusal to allow God to reveal Himself in anyway but those we choose. Ultimately, that path leads to dissappointment and stagnation in faith, perhaps even to loss and separation from God. Embrace all means to understanding creation and we embrace the fact that God is trying to show us the full majesty of what it all means, reject the science that enlightens and expands our knowledge and we are very much the poorer for it.

The choice is ours.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

A Pan-European military?

I recently discovered this on a blog called "Dodgeblogium" and think it makes interesting reading. If I get the drift of this argument right, the current constant cutbacks in the UK's armed services could be to make it fit into a new EU controlled European Defence Force. If that is so, surely we should be told? Or perhaps, in Blair's secretive and "internationalist" government, the last people he wants to know about it are the voters. After all, we might not approve.

But I must say that there is, buried in the item by Mr Fawkes, an interesting concept. Put simply, he suggests that, once a Whitehall Department has set something in motion they essentially cannot stop it. I must say, that that makes some sense as I have, in the course of a career spent building a professional service now largely destroyed by the Civil Service, that they do seem to have a complete inability to think through consequences and to change direction until their heads are lopped off for the final disaster. And everyone knows they never do have to account for the mess anyway, so they simply move on the the next disaster in waiting.

Putting aside my personal prejudice for a moment, I have several times noticed that the momentum of the Whitehall juggernaut is such that it rolls happily on no matter what, apparently completely unaffected by any change of government or policy for some considerable time. In fact, a friend estimated while I cogitated on this, that it is about ten years between any change of policy and direction from the politicians before the effect actually works its way down to the coal face. That would certainly seem to be born out by the fact that Primary Care Trusts (who run the Hospital parts of the NHS) are still closing Cottage Hospitals and transferring their services - at great expense - to the part of the NHS that delivers GP services. This despite a several times declared policy change from the Minister of State that they have changed the policy and now want to keep the Cottage Hospitals. I reckon the last Cottage Hospital will have closed it's doors to patients before the Minister's new policy actually gets implemented by the Trusts.

There are other even more serious examples, some of which will, I think become evident as Mr Brown's profligacy in spending taxpayers money starts to bite. In my own experience, and I suspect that Mr Fawkes may have shared similar ones, it takes on average around five years to get any Civil Service Department to actually accept that a change of policy or direction might be necessary. And that is only the start, now you have a battle of endless rounds of "consultation" most of which is ignored unless it coincides with the Departmental agenda, numerous "meetings", further "studies" - the outcomes of which are written well in advance of the actual research - and this will take up another three to five years before the actual change is even put into force.

After that inertia may delay the full implementation and impact of the change for anything up to twenty years.

The author John Winton once described the old Admiralty as "decision robust", meaning it took years for the effect of any decision to be felt. That is, sadly, no longer the case, but it certainly describes both the Civil Service and the Government in general. I think, when all is said and done, I rather prefer the style of government described in the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta "Iolanthe" which has a line in one of the songs that goes along the lines of " In good Queen Bess' glorious days, when England was governed by the Lord's; they did nothing very much, but did it rather well ..."

Probably explains why, under the supposedly "corrupt" government of the Lord's we actually built the biggest Empire ever - and threw it away when we gave it to the Civil Service to run.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the example we have been looking for of "perpetual motion". Directionless, lacking leadership, but grinding on in an unstoppable forward motion into oblivion. There must be a way we can adapt the formula for calculating kinetic energy to calculate the inertial energy of any given government departments policy activity ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 05, 2006


Candlemass is the day on which we remember the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, the day on which, as St Luke tells us, the aging Simeon and even older prophetess Anna recognised the Godhead in the infant. It is celebrated on the 2nd of February every year because this is exactly forty days after Christmas and accords with the Old Testament requirement for a woman to make an offering for purity and sin forty days after giving birth. This tradition was maintained in the Early Church where, insetad and a burnt offering, the woman presented herself and her new child for the first time following the birth in the congregation.

The 1662 Common Prayer Book of the Church of England continued this tradition and had a special service for the "Churching of Women following Childbirth". Thankfully, we have now moved on from viewing both the act of procreation in a loving relationship and the act of childbirth as being somehow "dirty" and "sinful". Instead we greet both mother and child when the parents bring the child for baptism.

Candlemass then, is, alongside the Epiphany, another feast of "revelation". Another step in the recognition of Christ as the Saviour of the World. Simeon greeted the child presented to him in the Temple with the words St Luke has given us:

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace; For mine eys have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, To be a light, to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel."

The prophetess Anna also had something to say, words which again Luke recorded, and which tell us that this child was recognised from the start by those whom God gave to understand His purpose. As St John would later write,

"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father; Full of grace and truth."

So, as we mark the feast we pray ....

Lord God, you are the source of everlasting light. Your son, our beloved Lord Jesus was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth. He was recognised by Simeon and Anna, and welcomed as the promised Messiah. May we like them, behold the glory of the Lord Jesus. Grant that we may stand before you with hearts cleansed by your forgiving love. May we serve you all our days and make your name known as we worship you as our Lord. So may we come by your grace to eternal life . Amen.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 01:26 PM | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Promoting peaceful understanding?

If anyone wants to know why I will never support the present Politically Correct promotion of Islam and Islamic Fascism as "superior" to Western culture and Christianity, visit this site on Middle Eastern Analysis by Tom Goss. Where, I wonder, are the fanatical demonstrators storming Arab Embassies in Western Capitals over the gross depictions in the cartoons Mr Goss has found in Arabic newspapers? Surely these are as offensive as the rather silly cartoons published by the Danes?

To make matters even worse, these cartoons and the papers that publish them are freely available in London and no doubt several other UK cities in those areas now apparently exclusively owned and occupied by our peaceloving Muslim community. If the Church Times (the nearest thing in the UK even marginally equivalent of the Saudi based "Arab News") published anything like this about Muslims the editor and staff would have been thrown in jail long since and the paper closed down. There would have been riots in Leeds, Birmingham, Bradford and London, questions in Parliament and a whole avalanche of new anti-Christian and anti-free speech legislation ruished through Parliament.

But, apparently its OK for Islamic sources to propagate this garbage, after all its only against evil Jews and Westerners! Frankly, while I do not support the crass action of deliberately offending Muslims with cartoons of the Prophet, I find the perpetuation of these anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda cartoons in Arab publications deeply repugnant and offensive. I know very well that I am not alone in this, so why are Blair and his cronies so reluctant to make known our objections and to take the sort of draconian action they would unleash on us for publishing less offensive material?

These cartoons are also why I will fight at every ditch, hedgerow and barricade to prevent Blair and his Gauleiters from bringing in their famous "Religious hatred" legislation. It would prevent anyone from commenting on the fact that their chums in the Mosques are in fact spreading the most vicious and pernicious lies and propaganda in the name of Islam - and are actively helped to do so by the PC lobby and Blair's minions.

Dare I suggest that Mr Blair and his cohorts across Europe are actually in the pay of the Arab Islamists and are really, themselves, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian?


Posted by The Gray Monk at 12:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 03, 2006

When are the Scriptures not the Scriptures?

Well, according to some, it depends on whether they are "Apocryphal" or not. In fact, I have heard an Evangelical member of my own congregation declare, after reading a passage set for the lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon, that "I cannot say this is the word of the Lord because as it is from the Apocrypha, which isn't the true word of God". I almost shouted "Oh yes it is!" from my stall, but bit my tongue and had a quiet word later! I am thus interested to find a piece on this very subject at Catholic Apologetics of America.

The author of that article makes the very good point that this division arose at the Reformation when Erasmus, Calvin, Knox and others decided to reform the Biblical canon - particularly of the Old Testament, to bring it in line with the Jewish accepted Canon for the "Babylonian" Torah. The original version on which the Vulgate Bible is based is based on the Hellenic version of this Canon which includes Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Maccabees, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon and Baruch. Their reason for doing this was that the Babylonian Canon was "more authoritative" and that Jewish scholars regarded the "Apocryphal" books as "instructive, but not authentic in their attribution". Yet both Canons include in the Old Testament the Books of Job, Esther (which makes no mention of God at all!) and Ruth, all variously described by scholars as being part of a "Pseudepigraphical" canon. In other words not written by the supposed author and not factual but philosophical debates. In the case of Job it is part of a discussion on the nature nof sin and the nature of evil, not a factual account of the suffering of a single man at the hands of an arbitrary God rather more in the mould of the "gods" worshipped in the Greek or Roman pantheon than the God with who we are familiar with from the teaching of Christ. What makes these any more valid than the books of the Apocrypha or, for that matter, the Gospel of James, The Acts of Pilate or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene all at various times read and used by different branches of the Christian faith?

The simple truth is that the entire matter is not as simple as it seems, since the Gospel writers quote liberally from these books as do the writers of the various Epistles. In fact, if we are to exclude books on the "doubts" held by certain scholars at certain times, then we find ourselves loosing one of the Gospels, five of the supposed "Letters of Paul", two by St John, Judes letter, two of Peter and the Revelations - one I personally would not mind losing at all since it is frequently misquoted and misused. St John's Gospel in fact opens with a quote from 2 Enoch, so if he thought, and indeed the early Church thought, that these books were authoritive, we should take more notice of them today. Personally, I love the Book of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, it is filled with simple but telling wisdonm and is a wonderful set of advice for negotiating ones way through the minefield of living!

I believe that we should approach the Bible and all the associated writings - even sopme of the more modern ones - as being God inspired. That we may not fully understand the thrust of them is down to two important things; firstly, the limitations of human language, and secondly, our own limitations of understanding of matters so vast (or so miniute!) as to be almost beyond our comprehension. I constantly find things in the Bible which I might once have understood in a very superficial way, but which, now that I have the benefit of experience and a wider understanding of several scientific discoveries, the thinking of a wide range of very respectable theologians and philosophers, my understanding of these things has developed and grown and I can now see much more in some parts of scripture than ever before.

It was pointed out to me again recently that it is a great mistake to read the new testament without looking up the relevant references in the old. A classic example is our modern understanding of the Last Supper, famously portrayed in paintings as a "men only" affair, yet, reading three of the four Gospels clearly tells us that it was a Passover meal.(The fourth clearly says it was the Eve of Passover and thus equally unlikely to be an "exclusive" affair since it assumes the character of a Meal of Fellowship.) Reading the Old Testament makes very clear that the Passover meal (or a Fellowship Offering Meal) is one that cannot be exclusive - friends, neighbours, children and, above all, women HAD to be there. Again, a too literal understanding without looking at the background trips up many readers who do not look at the whole, but see in part only. As St Paul famously says, we see through the glass "darkly" and do not see the full glory for the "glass" of our humanity distorts the vision.

The Reformers of the 15th and 16th Centuries did many things in their efforts to remove "superstition" from the Christian Faith, and in much of this they were probably motivated by a genuine desire to reform a church which was, at theat time, badly in need of reform. In fact, the Church of England's Bishops broadly supported Henry VIII in his break with Rome because they saw it as an opportunity to reform, retaining the best "Catholick" thinking and practice, and removing the "superstition". Hence the Canon Laws that require every Minister, Church Warden and Sidesman in the Church to "labour for the spread of true religion and the teaching of the Gospels." It was a battle they almost lost when Cromwell and his Presbyterians seized power, imposing the worst of Calvinism on the populace. Fortunately it never, as we say, "took".

So I return to my original question; when are the Scriptures, not the Scriptures? Clearly there is no definitive answer, since there is no agreement on what the authentic Canon is between the various factions debating this. For what it is worth, I would say that all of Scripture is valid, it is only our present use and understanding of it that is flawed when we do not read all as a valid whole, or when we fail to take notice of the purpose underlying the authors inspiration and intent. Only when we see Ruth in the context of a counter argument against the "Racial Purity" arguments of the post Babylonian exile period of rebuilding and reoccupying of Jerusalem, does it begin to make sense in the context of the history of the nation and in our understanding of the purpose of God. So to with Esther, the Jewish heroine who saves her people from the deceit of the Babylonian Court - yet makes no mention of God at all and in fact almost appears to praise deceit and revenge.

Scripture is best understood when read without preconception, without prejudice and when the heart and mind are open to God. As pilgrims through this world and on the road to growth in both mind and spirit we have to be prepared to have our faith tested, tried and siometimes changed as we study our Scripture on the road to Emmaus or Damascus. No pilgrimage is ever easy, and this one is littered with the political ambitions of the 16th and 17th Century, overlaying the politics of the 4th to 7th Centuries and further muddied by our own limited understanding of the culture in which these books, letters and philosphical debates were produced.

One thing I have learned in a long pilgrimage through scripture on my own journey in faith, is that there is no room for blinkers and certainly no room for prejudice when seeking to understand God's message and His plan for creation. As I said at the outset of this piece, we understand only partially the scriptures because most of us read them in poor translations, and even then, our understanding is limited and affected by our own limitations, some imposed by our approach to scripture and some the limitations of our mental ability to tackle such vast and almost unknowable subjects.

All scripture is valid, all understanding of it may contain flaws. The best we can do is to read, attempt to understand and to pray for enlightenment as and when God thinks we need it!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2006

Hopping stones

When I was a kid our family used to live only a few kilometers away from the River Rhine. At the weekends my father would often take me for a walk along the river. One of our favourite pastimes was to let pebbles hop over the water surface as often as possible. It is obviously something that has always fascinated people for this kind of game is already described by Homer. As far as I know, the world record is held by J. Coleman-McGhee who let his pebble hop 38 times.

Everyone who ever tried this out himself knows that the shape of the pebble and a few other things are important for success. Ideally, the pebble should be disc-like. It must be thrown in such a way that its flat side is parallel to the water surface and that it rotates around an axis perpendicular to its surface. Its hitting angle with the surface must be quite small. Therefore it's best to bend down close to the water when throwing the pebble. I think I finally got the hang of it after only a few hundreds of pebbles.

Trust a team of scientist to turn this into a scientific experiment. They created a 'model pebble', an aluminium disc (diameter: 2.5 cm, thickness: 2.75 mm), and a device that would throw the discs into the water. Two parameters could be varied: the velocity of the disc on leaving the throwing device (2.5 - 5 m/s) and the hitting angle between disc and water surface (15 - 45 degree). The spin of the disc was kept constant at 65 revolutions per second.

The scienstists found out that they achieved the best results, i. e. maximum number of jumps, if the times of contact between disc and water surface were very short, less than 0.1 sec in the experiments, because then only a small amount of energy would be lost by friction. Furthermore, the disc needed an initial velocity of at least 2.5 m/s. For the shortest contact times the disc had to hit the water at an angle of 20 degrees. At 45 degrees it wouldn't hop at all.

What is really fascinating about these experiments is what actually happens when the disc or pebble hits the water. Pictures taken with a high-speed camera revealed that the pebble will hit the water with its rear edge and glide through the water for a short way because it is stabilised by its rotation (around the axis perpendicular to its surface). Thereby a little wave is formed in front of the pebble. If the velocity of the pebble is still high enough it will eventually catch up with it and use it as a ramp for its next jump. The pebble will of course lose energy upon each new contact with the water surface, the jumps will become shorter and shorter and then its velocity will be too low to catch up with its 'bow wave' at all.

The physical principles in this harmless bit of fun were also used in warfare to destroy coastal fortifications. Bombs would be given a rotation around their longitudinal axis when dropping them into the coastal waters. On hitting the surface they would jump a few times just like a pebble. If timed correctly the last jump would bring them close to the dam where they would travel straight through the water being stabilised by their rotational movement and eventually hit and destroy the dam itself.

It is a bit of a comfort that nowadays these principles can be put to better use, though. A spaceship goes through a similar series of jumps on re-entering the atmosphere thereby losing a great deal of energy and heat. Studying pebbles might eventually lead to bit of optimisation in that area as well.

Posted by Mausi at 09:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

Which sports car am I?

Thanks to Dodgeblogium, I have found another of these "Which ---- are you?" quizzes. As ever I cannot resist the temptation to try them, so .....

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Well, it's RED, it's hot and it travels fast and dangerously, so it's close to what I have spent a long career ramming through traffic!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:08 PM | TrackBack